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I glance at you like Moses gazing toward the promised land,
His sight the only starving sense to perish satisfied.
No such content will compensate my ears, my lips, my hand,
For God has deemed to make the gulf between us two too wide.

My covert dreams alone can see you near me, arm in arm,
The scorn of cruel reality that jostles me awake.
I cultivate my nobler traits, my eloquence and charm,
Yet never do they seem enough for your transcendent sake.

I spy so many all around, in stories and in song,
Who find their love without the threat of mockery or laughter.
I’d whisper every secret of this lonely love lifelong
If only I lived not in fear of what might follow after.

MPA rating:  PG-13

It’s so easy to associate musicals with Broadway since Hollywood usually only seems interested in adapting musicals into film if they have a reliable following that promises a decent box office. I can understand that instinct; no one wants to take a risk for a flop, especially when musicals are considered more effort with extra talents of singing or dancing required of their cast. Yet there are a host of excellent musicals out there that have never made it to Broadway, like Tick, Tick… Boom! or Frank Wildhorn’s The Count of Monte Cristo. I may never have heard of Erica Schmidt’s Cyrano stage production if not for this film adaptation, which only deepens my love of musical cinema and my desire for more like it.

Many things fell into place for the creation of this film based on a musical play based on Edmond Rostand’s classic play Cyrano de Bergerac, the original catfishing story. Schmidt’s husband Peter Dinklage played the title role on stage, along with Haley Bennett as Roxanne, and Bennett’s involvement no doubt helped convince her partner Joe Wright of Atonement and Darkest Hour to take up directing the film version. Both Dinklage and Bennett reprise their stage roles and prove how well-cast they were from the beginning, joined by Kelvin Harrison, Jr., as Christian, the soldier who loves Roxanne and is aided by the eloquent Cyrano to woo her via love letters. Instead of the traditional abnormality of Cyrano’s large nose explaining his self-loathing and hesitance to pursue his love for Roxanne, Dinklage’s short stature is used instead, yet there are only a few direct references to his height. Indeed, the songs seem to be written so that any uncommon or “ugly” physical quality could take the place of Cyrano’s nose, even down to the series of taunts he lists for himself while dueling.

Musicals come in many different forms, and Cyrano is certainly not the typical Broadway product with big showstoppers. The choreography is decent but never vies for any kind of wow factor, and some of the lyrics are less than inspired in terms of rhyme and complexity, particularly a rather drab villain song for Ben Mendelsohn. Yet the songs, provided by rock band The National, still work on a more subtle level, with layers of sensitive piano and violin seamlessly folding the musical numbers into the score. Dinklage may not have a wide range, but his baritone complements his ever-expressive face, while Bennett gets more musical highs in songs like “Every Letter” and “I Need More.” I think “Every Letter” is my favorite, achieving its goal of making the sadly outdated act of letter-writing sensual with its beautiful staging of fluttering pages falling around the three overlapping singers. I’ve listened to the soundtrack quite a bit lately, and my love and appreciation for the songs have only grown with time.

It must be said that Dinklage absolutely deserved a Best Actor nomination, and the Academy’s ignoring of him is probably the worst snub since Amy Adams was passed over for Arrival. His eyes alone convey Cyrano’s latent heartache as he pines for Roxanne, especially when he is so close to her as a friend. Heck, the film could have deserved multiple nominations – Best Actress for Bennett, Cinematography, Score, Original Song for “Every Letter” – instead of just the one nod for Costume Design. Yet despite an 86% on Rotten Tomatoes, I’ve seen many articles labeling Cyrano a “failed musical” or a flop, which may be true in a purely box office sense but certainly not for the film’s quality. I don’t know what the moviegoing public wants in a musical, but their apathy toward recent movie musicals breaks my heart.

Though I may just be easier to please, I found Cyrano to be a perfect mixture of sincere and superb for any fan of tragic romance, elevated further by Wright’s elegant direction and a palpable fondness for the written word that rivals Violet Evergarden. To be honest, Steve Martin’s Roxanne was my previous touchpoint for Cyrano before this and sort of spoiled me with a happier ending than the source material had, but this Cyrano is the new gold standard for me, an exquisite film and a personal one for any sufferer of unrequited love.

Best line: (Roxanne, singing) “What is it you’re so afraid of losing?”
(Cyrano, singing) “That I might lose everything if I lose the pain.”

Rank:  List-Worthy

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